On Friday, Justice Ron Veale ruled Bell is liable to nearly 30,000 cellphone users in the N.W.T., Yukon and Nunavut who paid for 911 services they didn't receive.
The class-action lawsuit dates back to 2007, when Yellowknifers James Anderson and his son Samuel first filed the case. They complained Bell Mobility was charging customers 75 cents a month — or $9 a year — for a service that isn't available.
A 911 operator isn't available anywhere in the territories, except Whitehorse. Instead, residents call a 10-digit number for emergency services.
Court documents show that while Bell doesn't have the responsibility to provide 911 services, it shouldn't charge customers if that service isn't available.
Jason Laszlo, a representative from Bell Media relations, said Friday's ruling goes beyond what he intitially thought the trial was about.
"We're pleased the court ruled in our favour on the main issues certified for trial, and found that Bell Mobility is not required to provide live 911 operators. That is the responsibility of local governments," he said in an email.
"But we will certainly appeal its decision on a matter that hadn't even been certified for trial – i.e. whether customers in those areas are exempt from paying the fees charged to all customers nationally."
Keith Landy, the lawyer for the Andersons, said Friday's ruling sets a precedent. As far as he knows, this is the first class-action lawsuit in the Northwest Territories.
"Cellphone has become a necessity today. And by virtue of them having monthly fees to pay, and then having to pay a charge where the service isn't provided, is certainly something that needed to be corrected in our view."
Laszlo says the company expects its appeal to the Court of Appeal in the Northwest Territories to happen this year or early next year.
If the court accepts it, the next step would be to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The lawsuit affects customers across the North, who signed a contract with Bell before April 13, 2010.